Saturday, September 25, 2010

Pumpkin Pie with a No Roll Crust

When I was twelve years old I made my first pie crust.  An ornate lattice crust for a blueberry pie made  in anticipation of my mother coming home from the hospital.  I removed the pie from the oven and happily cut myself a slice.  The filing was perfect, the crust however could barely be sawed with a knife and took considerable time and effort to chew and swallow.  I did not grow up in a household where pie crust was ever made so I did not have any idea what I did wrong.  I left my doorstop crust pie on the counter and went out to have lunch, my brother told me he would stay home and just have a slice of pie for lunch.

I had lunch with my mother's old physics professor and he explained the science of crust making.  As he told me pastry has to be handled as little as possible to keep it flaky and tender I thought of the hour I had spent watching "The Price is Right," as I rolled and rerolled my crust.  I left lunch knowing that my next crust would be better and at least my mother would enjoy the filling in her welcome home pie.

I still remember how my pie looked when I returned home, 2 slices neatly cut out and the insides scraped completely clean.  There was not even a trace of blueberry filling remaining.  I am sure that a screaming argument resulted, however I do not remember that part.  What I do remember is my mother, who told me she loved the pie crust I made for her.  Then every night after dinner she cut herself a slice of crust until she had eaten the whole tough monstrosity.  That memory is one of my definitions of love, as well as a reminder to have a light hand when making pie crust.

So you can imagine my thought process as I looked for a pie crust recipe to use in the preschool at work.  The crust I ruined that very first time became my favorite crust when handled carefully.  However I do not feel a group of overly enthusiastic three and four year olds would be best suited for preparing a delicate crust.  I do believe in process over product for many things in the preschool setting, but food prep is not one of them.  So I searched for a crust you can smush into the pan with no rolling.   The crust I found calls for oil and all you do is stir it before pressing it into the pie pan.  Skills that seemed perfectly suited to preschoolers, I figured the results would be better than a crust that might be rolled for 20 minutes.

I was very happy with the crust we made, it was better then any I have found in the freezer section, although I feel a need to point out every bite of crust was filled with pumpkin pie, so really my results are skewed.  However I am now thinking quiche could be a fast weeknight meal utilizing a crust that is stirred and smashed before filling.  I have already told my boys they can make the pumpkin pie for Thanksgiving this year.  The filling was also just what I was looking for, although part of that is starting with pie pumpkins instead of a can.  One coworker remarked, as she took her fourth piece, "I don't even like pumpkin pie, but I love this."  I am guessing she never had a pumpkin pie made with fresh pumpkin before.  When I entered the classroom with the baked pies one little girl enthusiastically asked for a piece of pie.  As soon as she was done she was asking for more.  I asked her to please wait until everyone had a first piece.  She sat quietly down and slowly licked her plate clean, and to be honest I don't blame her.

Since then I have had the chance to cook one more time with the preschoolers.  I escorted a small group of them to a local farm where we picked kale.  Then we returned to the classroom and made my recipe for kale chips.  When we sat down to taste them most of the children excitedly gathered around ready for their turn to taste them.  One little boy made a face and looked at the bowl with disgust, although he did cautiously take one from the bowl.  He bit into it and then quickly ate the whole thing.  He said, with wonder "I didn't think they would taste yummy, but they taste really yummy."  Then all but 2 children proceeded to devour the whole bowl.  Personally I am still doing mental cartwheels of joy over the whole thing, 3 days later.

No Roll Preschool Friendly Pie Crust

I added sugar and cinnamon to the recipe so it would balance better with the filling.  If I was making a savory pie I would leave out the sugar and cinnamon and add a finely chopped herb such as sage, basil or thyme and freshly ground black pepper

3/4 cup white whole wheat flour
3/4 cup unbleached all purpose flour
1/2 cup oil (we used safflower oil, another good neutral oil would be grapeseed oil, for a quiche olive oil would be wonderful and if there are no allergy concerns try roasted hazelnut oil where the nutty sweetness would be appreciated)
1/4 cup ice water
1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp sugar
1/4 tsp ground cinnamon

Preheat the oven to 375°

Mix all the ingredients together in a bowl.  We chose to divide the dough into 2 balls before pressing them into pie pans.  We had just enough dough for a thin crust in each pie without an extra lip of unfilled crust.  Line the pie with foil and fill with about 1 cup of dried beans or pie weights.  Bake the unfilled pie crust in the center of the preheated oven for 20 minutes.  Remove and fill with desired filling and bake according to filling recipe.

Pumpkin Puree

2 pie pumpkins (you can also use any winter squash)
olive oil

Preheat the oven to 350°

Split the pumpkins in half and scoop out the seeds and strings.  If the pumpkins are very hard to cut through use a large chefs knife or cleaver and a mallet or hammer.  Just place the knife on the pumpkin as sharp side down and tap it with the mallet to slice the pumpkin in half.  Rub all the cut surfaces with olive oil and place cut side down on a cookie sheet.  Bake until tender when pierced with a knife through the skin.  You can scoop out the insides now or place in the fridge until needed.

Use a spoon or grapefruit spoon to scoop all of the pumpkin flesh into a bowl or pot.  Use an immersion blender to puree or place in a blender or food processor and process until smooth.  Any puree not used in the pie can be used in muffins, pumpkin waffles, soup or frozen for later use.

Pumpkin Pie
Adapted from Gourmet November 1999
(We filled 2 pies with this even though the original recipe states it fills 1.  I tried it at home to fill 1 pie and had leftover batter)

2 cups pumpkin puree from pie pumpkins or 1 can pumpkin puree
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 cup whole milk
2 large eggs
3/4 cup packed light brown sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1/4 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 375°  Whisk all the ingredients together and pour into crust that has been blind baked for 20 minutes (baked without its filling).  Pour filling into single pie pan and bake for 45 to 50 minutes until filling is set but still jiggles when you shake the pan.  Allow to cool on a rack before serving to allow filling to set fully.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Triple Chocolate Cranberry Oatmeal Cookie: or How to Fix Kindergarten Drop Off

For years whenever I pictured Julian starting kindergarten I imagined myself sitting outside the room sobbing.  However as the start of kindergarten drew closer I began to lose that vision.  He is just so capable and so ready to learn.  Plus, as much as I loved the adorable toddler he was I love the boy he now is and how our family spends its time as he grows up.  I realized soon after he was born that a family moves at the pace of the baby.  When he was done with napping, we could spend the whole day away from home, when he had the patience for a new activity our whole family could take part.  Plus, watching out for a toddler who is obsessed with electricity and wires was never a relaxing job.  Somehow when I thought of him starting kindergarten I never imagined Julian being anything but ready, even when I was staking out where I should collapse in tears.

On the first day of school when I picked him up another parent asked him how his first day was.  Julian stuck his hand in the air like he was in Saturday Night Fever and said, "Awesome!"  However 2 days later morning drop off was no longer awesome and then it got worse.  I began to joke about looking for someone, anyone, who was not me, to take him to school.

On Friday morning I stood outside the school holding Julian in my arms with his whole body collapsed against mine as he cried.  I was pretty easy to spot, I was the mother standing there crying with her child in her arms as he sobbed.  I have done the tough drop offs before with my children but somehow this felt different.  He was just so wretched, not yet ready to trust his teachers and start his day without me.  Holding him as we cried and then having to peel him of of me and unwind his hands from my purse straps (my children are strong willed and crafty).

Until Julian sobbed in my arms before his school day I never before understood the Elizabeth Stone quote, "Making the decision to have a child is momentous.  It is to decide forever to have your heart go walking around outside your body."  Until I stood there crying with Julian I never fully felt I had to let my heart walk away from me.  I love my children and I think about them whenever they are not with me.  However as I stood there crying with him I understood more of what my children mean to me and how I share their emotions.

I didn't know what was wrong, or how to help him.  I suspected that he just needed to learn to love and trust the adults he is with every day and then he would be comfortable with this completely new situation.  Julian makes strong attachments, collecting people he loves and trusts and feels safe being his outgoing and strong willed self with.  All that would take time and more tears.  More tears that I suspect will finally give me all the grey hairs I really should have at forty.

On Friday, a school holiday, I spent much of the day e-mailing with his teacher how to make his transition better.  I wrote to her of Julian and his 3 years of expecting to have Sebastian's kindergarten teacher himself (a teacher who is currently teaching second grade), how he has never gone into a new situation without already knowing and being attached to the adults.  How he needs to remember all the adults and children in his school building that he loves and trusts.  His teacher had some suggestions of things we could do to make his transition better, although I think many of her suggestions were to make me comfortable walking away as he cries.  She had some folks she thought might be able to help brainstorm solutions, although confidentiality was an issue.  I wonder how this blog post affects all of that?

In the midst of this emotional e-mailing (because I spent the day crying as I read about his troubles and brainstormed what he needs) I began to think of baking something that would help.  Whether I was thinking of a baked good to drown my sorrows or one that I could pack in Julian's lunches like a piece of my heart I don't know.  I was looking for a cookie that had whole grains and chocolate and maybe some fruit.  I found these triple chocolate cranberry cookies, definitely something to savor.

This morning I was able to leave without any tears from either of us.  Maybe it was the cookies, that and the fact Julian now loves and trusts his teacher.  To help build on that love I brought in more cookies to pick up, one for Julian and one for him to give to his teacher and student teacher.  Julian really enjoyed giving a cookie to his teachers, a way to make him more connected to her (or maybe her to him, after all these are not your average cookie).  As we prepared dinner together Julian told me he loves me and I asked if he loves his teacher.  He said, "Yes, I just had to get to know her first."  At dinner when Lewis asked how drop off was Julian replied, "It was fine, I love my teacher now."

Tripel Chocolate Cranberry Cookies
Adapted from Bon Appetite

10 Tbsp (1 1/4 sticks) unsalted butter at room temperature
1/2 cup white sugar
1/2 cup packed light brown sugar
1 large egg
2 tsp vanilla extract
1/4 tsp salt

1/2 cup white whole wheat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour

1/2 cup rolled oats
1/2 cup barley flakes (or use all rolled oats, I was just playing with multi grains)
1/2 cup semi sweet chocolate chunks (or use high quality semi sweet chocolate chips)
1/2 cup white chocolate chunks (or use high quality white chocolate chips)
1/2 cup milk chocolate chunks (or use high quality milk chocolate chips)
1/2 cups coarsely chopped fresh or frozen unsweetened cranberries

Place racks in the center of the oven and line 3 baking sheets with parchment paper.  If using convection preheat your oven to 300°, if not using convection preheat the oven to 350°

Beat the butter and 2 types of sugar in the bowl of a stand mixer using the flat beater blade or in a large bowl with an electric mixer until smooth.  Beat in the egg, vanilla and salt.  Add both flours and the oats and barley flakes and stir until fully blended. Add the chocolate chips and cranberries and stir until they are equally distributed.

Scoop out the dough by rounded Tbsp, I use a dough scoop because I hate trying to wrestle dough out of the spoon, leaving 2 inches between cookies.  Bake the cookies in the preheated oven, if using convection you can bake multiple trays at once, otherwise bake one tray at a time, until the edges are golden brown (approximately 16 minutes).  Cool on baking sheets for 5 minutes before transferring to cooling racks to finish cooling.  They become better after a few days.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Watermelon Creamsicle

On the morning of September first I climbed into bed with each of my children and hugged them.  "Good morning first day of third grade boy." I whispered to Sebastian.  Next I curled up with Julian and again, whispering, said, "Good morning first day of kindergarten boy." Julian happily answered back, "Good morning first day of work mama."  On the first day of school I became the "Healthy Food Coordinator" for the VNA Family Room, which means in one fell swoop everything is different.

Before I tell you about this job, let me say, I am not one of those people who believes everything happens for a reason.  In part this is because my brother liked to walk around New York City, in the eighties, talking to homeless people.  Hearing the stories of why people became homeless sort of kills the possibility that the world will work out for everyone.  There is also that small thing of my mother dying when I was 12 and becoming a type 1 diabetic when I was 13.  So with my lack of Pollyanna feelings about the world established, let me tell you about my new job and the organization I am working for.

The Family Room has been in our lives since Julian was an infant.  At that time I was struggling to figure out how to care for a newborn and keep an overactive, curious, outgoing preschooler occupied and happy.  I quickly learned that our days went better if I could just get us organized enough to get out of the house and to the Family Room, at least on Tuesdays and Thursdays when they have family play.  Family play is a drop in play program with staff and food.  However that does not really explain the role the VNA has had in the lives of my family for the last 5 years, or the feelings of grief I was having as I tried to figure out how I was going to graduate with my children from there.

However this last fall I had come to the realize I did not need to work just because Julian would be in school all day.  Taking care of my family and what we eat is still important work and finding some meaningless, low paying job was not going to make me happier (although it might have made us more financially stable).  If I was not going to work, I would have the time to volunteer at the Family Room, teaching cooking workshops to the participants and helping with food.  So comfortable with my choices I started to look forward to the free time I would have to cook more, blog etc.

Then in  May or June I heard that the Family Room's Americorps Vista position was going to be available and the position was, "Healthy Food Coordinator."  I am going to skip over the brief period when I thought the position was already filled and just say, "Wow!"  This position is even more, "meant to be," if you believe in that kind of thing, as now I am working 3 blocks from the boys current school.  This is only amazing when you realize we decided in April to move the children to a school that is 2 miles from our house, instead of the one Sebastian attended for the last 3 years, that is a mile away.

I have now been doing my job for one week and I feel very confident in saying, I can tell you at the end of the year exactly what I am doing.  One thing I have not had to do is spend time getting to know my coworkers or the programs they offer.  I know I will be teaching cooking workshops, helping to source more local foods for all the programs with a focus on the preschool and developing menus for the preschool ready for them (probably me to start with) making their own meals.  I will be using the skills and relationships I have been developing in the kitchen and with food here in Burlington.  Some of my children's pickiness will help inform what I do, but really much of Sebastian and Julian's opinions about food are uniquely their own.  Take last week and the watermelon popsicles I made when Sebastian declared he was tired of eating the melon from our CSA.

So I had this moment of inspiration to make watermelon cream popsicles, which would be a riff on a drink I used to get on vacation.  The drink was called a watermelon cream and is made by blending fresh watermelon juice with vanilla ice cream.  However rather then make vanilla ice cream I decided just to use milk, cream, sugar and vanilla extract and then freeze the mixture in popsicle molds.  Both Sebastian and Julian were so excited when I told them the idea and hounded me until I got popsicle sticks to make them.  Lewis, Julian and I all love them.  Sebastian, the child who was tired of watermelon, declared that they are not what he was expecting and he doesn't like them.  Apparently, he said, he was expecting them to taste like a wonderfully ripe slice of watermelon and they don't.  Perhaps because his mother intentionally made them a little different from the flavor of watermelon because he was tired of it!

Watermelon Cream Popsicles

2 1/2 cups watermelon puree (make watermelon puree by whizzing watermelon chunks in a blender, food processor or with an immersion blender. You can remove the seeds if you want but it is not essential)
3/4 cup heavy cream (you can substitute half and half, whole milk or any milk substitute such as soy milk)
1/2 cup milk (I used 1%, use whatever you keep in the house, even soy, rice, almond etc)
1/8 tsp salt
1/4 tsp vanilla extract

Combine all the ingredients and combine well using whatever machine you used to puree the watermelon chunks.  Pour into popsicle molds (or paper cups with a stick handle) and freeze until hard.